Jews in News: Alana Haim, Sean Penn and Andrew Garfield

A Tour of L.A. in 1973, Larson’s ‘Kosher-Style’ Bio, More

“Licorice Pizza” (opens Nov. 26) is a coming-of-age film directed and written by the “quirky” Paul Thomas Anderson. Anderson is a big fan of the popular band “Haim” (three real-life Jewish sisters) and he cast ALANA HAIM, 29, in her first acting role. The movie takes place in the early 1970s and touches on a lot of iconic ‘70s moments in Southern California. (Advance reviews are good).

Alana plays Alana Kaine, a Jewish woman about 20 who works as a photographer’s assistant. During a photo-shoot at a high school, she meets Gary Valentine, a 16-year-old (non-Jewish) student. Gary is played by Cooper Hoffman, who is also making his film debut. He is the son of the late actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Alana and Gary become very good friends, but never quite have a physical relationship. Alana is well-aware of their age difference, and notices Gary’s social awkwardness—but trumping all that is the simple fact that he is a good guy.

Alana and Gary have lots of ‘adventures’ that involve name-actors that Anderson got to appear (briefly) in his film. Here are a few “adventures”: They meet a famous actor, modeled on William Holden, who is played by SEAN PENN, 61; they start a water bed company and a customer is Jon Peters, a (real) film producer who lived with BARBRA STREISAND in the early ‘70s (Bradley Cooper plays Peters); they get involved in the real (1973) mayoralty candidacy of JOEL WACHS, now 87. Wachs is played by BENNY SAFADIE, 37.

The large supporting cast includes MAYA RUDOLPH, 49, SKYLER GISONDO, 25, DESTRY ALLYN SPIELBERG, 24, and SASHA SPIELBERG, 31 (Steven’s daughters). Alana’s real-life sisters and parents appear briefly as, respectively, Alana Kaine’s sisters and parents.

The musical film “Tick, Tick… Boom!” had a very limited theater opening on Nov. 12 and began streaming on Netflix on Nov. 19. I was going to wait until I saw it on the 19th before writing about it. Why? Because there is a long-standing real problem that’s getting worse in recent years. The problem is the erasure of the Jewish identity of biographical figures or the erasure of the Jewish background of a fictional print character when that character becomes a TV or movie character. I wanted to see if “Tick Tick.. Boom!” was part of this trend.

A friend of mine was kind enough to tell me on Nov. 13 that he was reliably informed that “Tick, Tick, Boom!” is another “erasure” case.

“Tick Tick… Boom!” is a biographical film directed by Lin Manuel-Miranda. It’s about Jewish composer JONATHAN LARSON, who died suddenly of a mis-diagnosed heart condition in 1996, age 35. He died just before his most famous work, the musical “Rent”, was about to open. In 1991, he wrote “Tick, Tick, Boom!”, an autobiographical “one-man” show. It has posthumously been re-worked/re-written a number of times in stage productions with a much-larger cast.

A writer for the Jewish website ‘Alma” differs with my friend.  In a Nov. 15 article, he praised the film for having a heavily Jewish cast. He also was very happy that Larson (as the “Tick” character) makes two small Jewish references. Frankly, I think that most non-Jews wouldn’t even notice or “get” these references (using the word kaddish and correcting, under his breath, the way that some non-Jews pronounced challah).

This all said, reviews for the film are mostly good. Singled out for praise is ANDREW GARFIELD, 38, who plays the Larson character. This is Garfield’s first musical and he really can sing. The Jewish members of the large cast include JOEL GREY, 89 (as Jonathan’s father); JUDITH LIGHT, 72, NOAH ROBBINS, 31, and BEN LEVI ROSS, 23. Also, composer STEPHEN SONDHEIM, now 91, a mentor of Larson, is a major character.

Larson grew-up in a pretty secular Jewish household. His paternal grandfather changed the family name from Lazarson to Larson. Right after Larson’s death, his father, ALLAN, told the NY Times that his son lived in a Lower East Side tenement as he struggled to write a hit show. Allan said, “It was the kind of place my father, a Russian Jewish immigrant, probably lived in when he came here in 1900.” Allan didn’t use ‘cutesy’ Jewish clues like “challah” and “kaddish”. He said “Jewish”. Why bio-film writers don’t use that word is a discussion for another day.

Next week: Catching-up with a lot of shortish items and a couple of surprises.


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